ROSES & THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces Updated April 25, 2009 12:00 AM
Today marks the last day of Instituto Cervantes de Manila’s three-day celebration of Dia Internacional del Libro (International Book Day). Instituto Cervantes Director Jose “Pepe” Rodriguez objective for this year is to give focus on the rich culture and traditions common to both the Philippines and Spain and to bring back Manila’s glorious past as the cultural capital of Asia by featuring literary works. On a wider scale, the event, which is also promoted by UNESCO as The World Book and Copyright Day, highlights the importance of books and reading as a key to learning, which is the only way one can improve himself and the life he leads. Hence, authors worldwide are also recognized for their works and their contribution in the preservation of culture and heritage, regarded as fruits of the human spirit. The importance of protecting intellectual property is also brought to fore as authors create books which express and demonstrate cultural diversity.
Data from UNESCO reveal that over 100 million children in the world receive no kind of schooling of which two-thirds live in sub-Saharan Africa. In our country, for those with more resources than others, reading books seemed to have been relegated to the back seat as browsing the internet to get information and texting has become more popular due to its accessibility and convenience. With the vast resources that can be accessed from the internet, including literary works, it is not surprising that less people buy books to read. Even the once voluminous and expensive volumes of encyclopedia can now be accessed through the internet.
For the more disadvantaged members of society, the picture becomes grimmer as the poor, who would rather work to earn, miss schooling. The vicious cycle leads to lesser opportunities to learn which hopelessly binds them to a lifetime of poverty and illiteracy. For those who can manage to attend public school, they have to face the problem of the lack of textbooks for basic learning and or the proliferation of poorly written books. Unaware of the defects and errors in public school textbooks, these poor students are doomed to an impaired ability to communicate and incorrect learning. The worst part is the tendency for their children to take after their experience.
Latest data from the National Statistical Coordination Board brings the alarming news that more than 11 million Filipinos, or about 12 percent of the population live below the subsistence level and about half of this number cannot read or write. Add the number of those who have access to education but barely read, we have a large group of Filipinos doomed to a lifetime of poverty, illiteracy and mediocrity, unless a drastic action is taken.
The opportunities need not to be for a few. The resources are there, it is just for the taking. But we have to help the less disadvantaged get access to these available resources and opportunities. We have read of philanthropists and advocates installing library hubs and donating books to libraries. We should have more educational institutions and teachers reaching out to poor students in barrio schools through reading programs which have proven to enrich their intellectual skills, training community teachers in the process. We should have more schools doing this as part of their outreach programs so that the benefits are replicated and realized on a larger scale. Beyond helping the youth improve learning through reading, the most important part should not be forgotten — imparting to them the legacies of culture and tradition of generations past without which the present can have no meaning.